Rutgers, New Jersey, you broke your promise - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Rutgers, New Jersey, you broke your promise

Taken from

By Catherine A. Mazzola, Star-Ledger Guest Columnist

April 8, 2021

Dr. Catherine Mazzola, writing for the Newark Coalition of Concerned Citizens, says many believe that an agreement that redirects jobs, opportunities, access to healthcare services in Newark to other resources to Livingston and New Brunswick are in direct violation of the Newark Accords.

With recent headlines highlighting racial and ethnic differences in outcomes from the coronavirus pandemic, awareness is rising about the impact healthcare inequities, racial discrimination, disparate opportunities and limited access have on minority populations.

While University Hospital in Newark and its leader, Dr. Shereef Elnahal, have tried to be a bulwark against those depressing tidings, actions being taken by Rutgers with a corporation, RWJ Barnabas Health, threaten the stability and future of this important asset in our community.

The tragic part is Gov. Phil Murphy and the state of New Jersey, owner of University Hospital since 1968, are passive in the face of this threat.

I am a product of both Rutgers’ New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) and University Hospital, where I completed my neurological surgery residency in 2001. I am now an attending neurosurgeon at University Hospital. I am also a member of the Newark Community Coalition, a group of advocates that is investigating and fighting changes that could weaken University Hospital and access to healthcare for people in Newark.

Rutgers, founded in 1766, is now called the State University of New Jersey with its flagship campus in New Brunswick and Piscataway and regional campuses in Newark and Camden. In the 1960′s, Rutgers, Newark and state officials took over a sizeable portion of the city’s Central Ward to build the New Jersey Medical School and took possession of Newark City Hospital.

We tackled the implications of that event recently in an academic journal article: “Broken Promises.”

Historically, Newark residents experienced poor socioeconomic conditions, terrible medical care and abhorrent racism. In the aftermath of the devastating Newark uprisings that were rooted in those conditions, community leaders engaged city, state and university officials about their plan for the medical school, which threatened to displace many residents from their homes.

Through meaningful collective bargaining, community activists achieved the Newark Agreements (also known as the Newark Accords) of 1968. In part, state and Rutgers officials committed to promoting public health in Newark through the new medical school and University Hospital indefinitely. Community leaders, meanwhile, were able to reduce the horrific effects that the new campus would have created by convincing state and city officials to build New Jersey Medical School on 58 acres instead of 167 acres.

As with indigenous populations in America, Rutgers and state officials bargained for land with no intention of accountability for promises unmet. How else would you interpret their neglect of Newark residents, the hospital, and the medical school in recent years? Community leaders bargained in good faith and believed that city, state and university leaders would live up to their commitments. History repeats itself in modern times with more broken promises.

Ultimately, the rights of Black and brown residents of Newark’s Central Ward are being blatantly disregarded, despite the agreements made in 1968. More broken promises.

We are speaking up now because these recent developments at Rutgers indicate that the people of Newark and University Hospital are in imminent danger. Rutgers and RWJ Barnabas are in a position to compound those broken promises by allowing the cannibalization of the hospital and its services, reneging forever on the commitment of economic development, education and healthcare services that leaders of city and state, as well as Rutgers, made to Newark residents.

I believe the joint operating agreement between Rutgers and RWJ Barnabas Health system poses immediate threats to medical education at the Newark New Jersey Medical School campus and, ultimately, University Hospital, the current name of Newark City Hospital.

Dr. Robert L. Johnson, dean of the New Jersey Medical Schools, and Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, both sit on the boards of University Hospital and RWJ Barnabas Health. They are known supporters of RWJ Barnabas Health and, in my opinion, have stood by and may have facilitated the relocation and centralization of services to RWJBarnabas System by redirecting financial support, senior staff and resident physicians, nurses and other resources away from Newark and University Hospital. Hundreds of others, if not thousands of people, are against the relocation and redistribution of graduate medical education monies, resident physicians, nurses, support staff and senior physicians to other sites.

Many of us believe that redirecting jobs, opportunities, access to healthcare services in Newark and other resources to Livingston and New Brunswick are in direct violation of the Newark Accords.

Author James Baldwin famously concluded a groundbreaking essay by saying “No more water, the fire next time!” But, what do you do when the fire has come and gone and the injustices remain?Newark residents already suffered through their fiery uprising and, in response, formalized what they believed was an inviolable social contract with the state, business leaders and Rutgers. History is showing us their commitments in the Newark Agreements were empty promises, a way to quell the fire without accountability.

As recent marches and rallies for social justice are showing us, disingenuous promises will not quell what comes next. It is time to hold the state, city and Rutgers to commitments they made 53 years ago. The people of Newark deserve all that was promised to them in 1968. No more broken promises.

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